Category Archives: hostels

What to do before check in?

I opened my eyes and was ready to bail on this place. It took me less than ten minutes from the time I woke up to be checked out of the hostel. I asked for a taxi and instead found out I could easily walk the 15 minutes to the hotel. ‘Muy cerca,’ I was told. Very close, I translated silently. And it was. Gear and all, I believe I made it in under 10 minutes.

Arrived at the hotel only to find out that I had hours before check in – which 2pm. I had just over 4 hours until I could check in and close to 6 hours before the girls would arrive.

It was a beautiful property.

hotel-1

One of the gorgeous views.

The staff invited me to eat breakfast, which was lovely. And since I had plenty of time to spare, and a solid internet connection, I decided to take care of business … I Skyped with family, booked a hostel in Salta, Argentina – my next stop, got the details for the bus terminal where I’d be departing from in a few days and emptied out all the papers, notes and tickets I had been collecting in my backpack, adding unnecessary weight to my load.

tickets

Some of the tickets I had been carrying around, unnecessarily. Tucked into pockets here and there, the weight adds up.

I even went so far as to pull together my dirty laundry since I planned on dropping it off at a lavanderia in town. This must have been quite a sight to see … remember I’m in their ‘lobby’ since I can’t check in for hours.

While this seems like a lot of ‘to do’s,’ and a lot less travel, it was nice to regroup and get reorganized with this downtime. Once I was able to check in, I showered and began to download photos off my camera, so I could get those uploaded and clear out some memory.

After a few hours, Alana and Courtney arrived and it was quite the reunion!

arrivalSince they flew overnight, connected in Santiago for Calama and then took the hour-long drive from the airport in Calama to San Pedro de Atacama, they had a pretty long run of travel. They got settled, showered and we made our way into town. I didn’t go into much detail around ‘town.’ Since I was pretty surprised, I wanted them to be too! I was eager to see what they thought. We’d be there soon enough.


My first night in San Pedro de Atacama

After quite the treacherous bus journey from the airport in Calama to the small adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, I finally arrived at my hostel. What an interesting set up. Once you entered the property from the dusty street, you were transplanted into a large courtyard. Looking around, you could see small huts dotting the property.

During check in, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since the plane, so I wanted to find something to eat. It was 8.50pm and the woman at the front desk advised me that the supermarket closed at 9 but was just around the corner.

my-hut1

My hut.

After being shown to my hut, I left my bags and headed out into the dark, dusty street. From what I could tell, I felt like I was on a movie set. The streets were sandy, dust was everywhere. The town felt old and worn, like a cowboy movie type of town. At the same time it felt charming and I was excited to explore, if only a short walk to the supermarket at this point.

I first went into the wrong place … they only had day-old (or older) empanadas. I figured out my error and came back outside, found the supermarket (all the buildings looked the same). This was no supermarket with fluorescent lights. This was a very, very small bodega.

The choices were slim and hodge podge. I went with a roll (that looked fresh), wafers, apple juice and water. Seeing a sign for cheese, but no sign of cheese, I asked the person behind the counter how it worked. I was asked how many slices, and not seeing a deli slicer, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get so I replied, ‘cuatro,’ (four in Spanish). After all, I thought, I could easily polish off four slices of cheese. Instead, I must have gotten four 1/4 pounds of cheese. Oops.

I made my purchase and my way back to the hostel. One of the huts was designated a communal kitchen. The lights were on and I could hear voices so I went inside to eat. Inside I met a German man and Italian woman. They had offered me some of their home-cooked meal but instead I nibbled on my cheese while we shared pleasantries.

After dinner they asked if I wanted to join them for a walk into town to go to the ATM. I clearly had nothing else planned for the evening, and hadn’t yet seen the town so I went along.

The center of town was a couple of small alleys away and after a whopping five minute tour, I saw it all. As I would later learn, the ATM was the highlight of the nightlife. After waiting in line at the ATM (it was popular), we popped into a bar for a beer before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night.

I was happy to get to bed since I knew when I woke up I’d be moving to the lovely boutique hotel that my friends and I had booked before I left New York.

Knowing now how small the town was, I didn’t want to explore on my own since I’d be doing it again with the girls once they arrived. My plan for the following morning was quite simple. Wake up, transfer to the fancy place, check in, figure out my next steps after San Pedro, and finally, spend the rest of the day poolside until the girls arrived. I was so excited to see familiar faces and now, after some reflection on my ride from the Calama airport, I was immensely curious how their ride would be, not even 24 hours after mine.


Valparaiso, you’d love it or hate it. Spoiler alert: I loved it.

As I mentioned, I had been warned you’d either love Valparaiso or hate it. Well, Valpo, as it’s lovingly called, was a total win for me. After two nights I loved it and decided to stay longer.

Except when I went to extend my reservation for another two nights at breakfast the next morning, I was told this hostel was booked. So breakfast became quite productive for planning my day and my sleeping arrangements.

First,  I had to make a plan to change hostels since the one I was currently in was booked. It happened that there was another traveler who wanted to stay longer as well so one owner of the hostel made a call and two of us were going to transfer to another hostel.

Over breakfast, all the travelers at the table shared our plans for the day. Mine was not really a plan but I wish that I was keen to visit the wine region. In conversation, I found two other travelers who were hoping to do the same.

And, in nearly one fell swoop, I had one owner calling to find two of us another hostel and the other owner was about to plan the day for the three of us.

Three of us asked the other owner to book us on a tour. He told us that’s not how it works; yet, after making just one phone call, he confirmed that we’d be driven out to one of Chile’s most accessible wine regions, the Casablanca Valley, later that morning.

Planning? Sometimes it’s just for the birds!

 


Walking Tour of Valparaiso

A quick bus ride from Vina and I arrived in Valparaiso. Once in town, I made my way to a lovely hostel, that was more bed and breakfast than traditional hostel, at the summit of one of Valparaiso’s many hills (cerros).

I met two more travelers – Stephanie and Chris – and we chatted a bit until we realized we were hungry. Together we went to a nearby market to bring back some dinner – which, for me, was a personal-sized box of wine, cheese and crackers.

Before breakfast, I reserved my room for another night. At breakfast, I met Quinn and Joe, who, like me, had also left great jobs in NYC to travel. Over breakfast we realized we were planning to take the same walking tour. Together we headed out and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city aptly nicknamed the ‘Jewel of the Pacific.’

Our free, organized walking tour started in Plaza Sotomayor in front of the Armada de Chile (Navy Building) and Monumento a Los Heroes (Heroes Monument).

Our guide started the tour with a brief history. We learned that neighboring Bolivia, now a landlocked country, once had access to the Pacific Ocean but during the War of the Pacific, Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Barricading Bolivia’s access has been detrimental to the country’s growth. This is still quite a big deal between citizens of both countries and there’s plenty online. More info can be found here and here.

Before the Panama Canal opened, Valparaiso’s port was an important stop for ships traveling around Cape Horn. Today, Valparaiso is a major seaport and shipping center in South America.

Speaking of major seaports and expansive shipping centers, our second stop: Valparaiso’s impressive port.

 


I just needed a place to call home for the night

I headed over to the closest place (#3) and learned they had no availability for the week. When I left there, it was starting to get pretty hot out and it wasn’t very comfortable being sandwiched between my backpack and day pack with the sun beating down. I was anxious to lighten my load and explore Mendoza.

I just needed a place to call home for the night first.

I walked a little ways to the next closest (#1) and as I approached the desk, I quickly learned there were no rooms there either. Since I only had one place left on my list, I asked to use their phone and called #2.

Score! Availability!

Using the now well-worn map, and dripping with sweat, I made my way to what felt like the other side of town, checked in and took one of the three unclaimed beds, which put me in a top bunk (my preferred location) in a room for four. It took a second for me to realize I hadn’t been in a hostel in a few days since I had upgraded myself (voluntarily and then by chance) to hotels the past two nights.

There was a French language guidebook on the windowsill, very heavily, um, scented, hiking boots under one of the beds and a worn backpack leaning against the wall. I deduced that my roommate was from France and he/she had been traveling a while.

I would learn later that she was from France and had been traveling nearly a year. Just call me Sherlock Holmes.

I dropped my backpack, took my day pack and my sense of adventure and left to explore Mendoza.


I Obviously Had the Taxi Driver Concerned

My taxi driver was probably so confused. Here, he’s making a pick up from the airport and the direction he gets is ‘the center of town.’

He was obviously concerned for my lack of plans because he literally dropped me off in front of a free-standing visitors booth just a block away from the main pedestrian street in Mendoza. He waved his hands encouraging me to visit the booth.

 

I thanked him and got out of the taxi. He waited until I got myself situated – my big backpack on my back and my daypack firmly secured on my front. I asked the visitors booth for a map. I took it and then headed towards the pedestrian only street (Avenida Sarmiento) where there were tons of cafes. I decided to park myself at Havanna, South America’s omnipresent coffee shop (think Starbucks), hooked my backpack under the leg of my chair, ordered myself a submarino and got to work to find myself a place to stay.

Let’s talk about this submarino for a second. It is hot (steamed?) milk served in a tall glass with a chocolate bar served on the side. You put the bar in, mix it and drink it. Heavenly.

submarino

 

Can you believe it? Not one photo — because I drank it before I could photograph it! Photo courtesy of NC

While I waited for my submarino, I pulled up the top Mendoza hostels on TripAdvisor and wrote down their addresses and phone numbers. I didn’t see the hostel from the Lonely Planet I had booked from the airport for the night before so I let it go.

Learning from my earlier experience in Colonia, Uruguay,  I did not put all of my eggs in one basket and instead made a shortlist of three hostels (TripAdvisor #1, #1 and #3). I marked each hostel on the map, mapped out my walk in case I needed to hit all three due to the lack of availability, shut my computer and took in the morning café life in Mendoza.


Third Night in Uruguay, First Night in a Hostel

After making my way into the hostel, I went into the dorm and got ready for bed. It was nearly 11pm and this “adventure” to get back to the hostel took nearly six hours.

Three nights into my trip and, thanks to Fred and Laura, this was my first hostel stay.

As soon as I put my stuff into my backpack, my roommates for the night started to trickle in.

Everyone but me was a South American on holiday. Two Brazilian sisters, an Argentine girl traveling alone, two Chilean guys and me. Six of us were a veritable UN as we chatted in Spanish, Portuguese and very little English for a few hours more.

Ok, well I spoke in Spanish. I don’t know a lick of Portuguese. And I felt that if I could speak in Spanish, I should.

Everyone asked everyone questions about themselves and their cultures.

What I wanted to ask, but didn’t, was if they were all on holiday, it was a Friday night, they all come from countries that eat dinner late, why were they all getting ready for bed before midnight?

Six of us did say buenos noches before our seventh roommate made it home.

However, four of us were wide awake to welcome her back since the two Chilean guys were the loudest snorers ever. And  thought my boyfriend is a loud snorer. He doesn’t even compare to these two.

Since I had only ‘been on the road’ for all of three days, I wasn’t in tune with hostel life yet. I laid in bed wondering where I packed my earplugs and/or iPod. I couldn’t think if they were easily accessible in my backpack that was sitting on the floor next to my bed.

Not wanting to wake anyone, I suffered in silence while the two guys in the room snored loudly.

Time was ticking away and I realized that all the girls were still up. I saw lights from phones and I heard Ay Dios Mio more than once. One by one the girls in the room all made some sort of noise, or signal, to indicate that we, too, were still awake.

Language barriers aside, once realizing we were all awake, we erupted in laughter for a few minutes. And the snoring continued without missing a beat.

Realizing that I wouldn’t wake the girls and it wouldn’t be so terrible to wake the boys, I got out of bed to find my iPod.

I jacked the volume up so  may have lost a little bit of hearing that night, and I still don’t know how I fell asleep, but I did my best to drown out those two snorers.